by T. Mack
Parks and Recreation was a beloved sitcom on NBC from 2009-2015. Starring a fantastic ensemble cast led by Amy Poehler of SNL fame, the show became a cultural phenomenon and a ratings powerhouse for 7 seasons. While that was going on, I ignored the series completely. I knew about it and even caught tiny snippets of it here and there, but took little time to sit and watch. I lumped it in with the cringe humor of The Office and decided it wasn’t for me. Recently, my friend and sister geek Taylor and my husband both convinced me that I might actually like the show if I gave it a chance. It turns out they were right. It took me 3 weeks to binge my way through all 7 seasons. And now here we are. Depending on how you look at it, I’m either 3 years or nearly a decade late with this list. OR… Maybe it’s never too late to love great television?
Either way, here’s my list of 10 reasons (not the only 10 reasons, not even the top 10 reasons, just 10 of the reasons) I love Parks and Recreation.
1. LESLIE KNOPE
Parks and Recreation is, in the simplest terms, a show about the Parks Department of Pawnee, Indiana. Leslie Knope is the heart and soul of that department. She holds it together, keeps it moving forward, and inspires everyone around her (eventually) to give at least half a damn about their jobs, their community, and each other. Without Leslie, there would be no show, and one suspects, not a single functioning park in the entire city of Pawnee.
Things to love about Leslie: 1) Her enthusiasm and optimism; 2) Her obsessive organization; 3) Her sense of purpose; 4) Her sense of justice; 5) Her ambition; 6) Her mad gift-giving skills; 7) Her incredible compliments; 8) Her love for waffles; 9) Her devotion to her town; 10) Her loyalty to her friends
2. RON SWANSON
If Leslie Knope is the heart and soul of the Parks Department, then Ron Swanson is the practical stomach and bowel system which places the importance of food and other basic animal needs over any professional goals or ambitions. Ron doesn’t believe in government spending, sharing feelings, or eating vegetables. He believes in fishing, the right to privacy, eating large quantities of meat, and that breakfast food is the best kind of food. Ron doesn’t like people. But when someone manages to weasel their way into his heart, they become his people. And Ron takes care of his people (but he makes sure no one knows about it).
Things to love about Ron: 1) Duke Silver; 2) The “moo-stache,” 3) His impeccable woodworking skills; 4) His hatred of everyone; 5) His refusal to meet the public or basically do his job in any way; 6) His love of breakfast food (all the bacon and eggs); 7) His love of meat; 8) His love of dark liquor; 9) His love of dark-haired women (including his weakness for those named Tammy); 10) His love for those he considers family
3. APRIL & ANDY
April Ludgate and Andy Dwyer are both fantastic characters in their own right. However, over the course of the show’s seven seasons, they became something together that seemed bigger than the sum of its parts. April was a sullen and moody college student and Andy was a slacker with no ambition or drive to be more than he was. Andy brought April joy and helped her hate everything and everyone a bit less. In return, April made Andy want to be a better man and make something of himself so he would have something to give her. She helped him realize that he was capable of more than he ever thought possible and he helped her realize that she cared about more than she ever imagined she could.
Things to love about April & Andy: 1) Their precious early flirtation; 2) Andy’s fight to win April’s affection after “the kiss”; 3) Their wonderfully romantic surprise wedding; 4) Their devotion to each other; 5) Their commitment to being and staying weird together; 5) Their efforts to grow up; 6) Their encouragement of each other; 7) The way they made long distance work — twice; 8) Their role-play; 9) Their team dynamic; 10) Naming their newest little team member
4. BEN WYATT
Ben Wyatt showed up in the third season of the show as a replacement for Mark Brendanowitz. Like Mark, he was a voice of reason among all the crazy of the team. However, he had a certain quality Mark seemingly didn’t. Ben was actually interesting. He was uptight and even more prickly about rules than Leslie. He seemed like a grade A jerk. But when everyone, including the audience, got to know him, we discovered he was funny, and sweet, and geeky in the nerdiest, uncoolest, and thus, best kind of way. And also, he loved Leslie. He was willing to risk his job to be with her, and later, was willing to put his own ambition to the side in favor of hers. In the end, Ben wasn’t just a good guy. He was a great guy. And the very best guy for our Leslie.
Things to love about Ben: 1) His love of Game of Thrones; 2) He invents board games; 3) He is an accounting rock star; 4) He’s overcome his past as an epic failure; 5) He risked his career to be with Leslie; 6) He made certain he bore the brunt of consequences when he and Leslie got caught breaking rules; 7) He gave up a second, promising career to be with Leslie; 8) He gave up a third, promising career for Leslie to follow her dreams; 9) He’s just a good guy; 10) His 4th-wall-breaking eye contact is hilarious
5. JOHN RALPHIO & MONA LISA
This brother/sister duo, John Ralphio and Mona Lisa Sapperstein, are absolutely terrible people. They are rich, spoiled, and crazy. Of course, their utter horribleness is what makes them great characters and a lot of fun to watch. John Ralphio begins making occasional appearances early in the series and Mona Lisa shows up about halfway through the show’s run. While they are not around all the time, both the show’s other characters and the audience are grateful for it. The small doses of these two are enough to make us laugh and have our fill and then want them gone again. Watching these two for a few minutes will make you laugh hysterically, but it will also make your least tolerable real-life friend just a little more tolerable–at least for a little while.
Things to love (or possibly hate) about John Ralphio and Mona Lisa: 1) His hair; 2) Her nasal-y voice; 3) His lingo; 4) His singing!; 5) His fast talking; 6) Her “Money, pwease!”; 7) Their insurance scams; 8) His business ventures; 9) Her setting things on fire; 10) Their complete lack of any work ethic
6. THE TAMMYS
Ron Swanson has a thing for women named Tammy. His mother’s name was Tammy. His first wife, Tammy 1, was a monster. His second wife, Tammy 2, was a beast. And try as he might, Ron can’t seem to fully escape the curse of the Tammys. They keep showing up. Fortunately for him, his friends are there to help him escape the clutches of whichever Tammy might be trying to get her claws into him. Usually, they’re successful… eventually.
7. MERITS OF PSYCHOTHERAPY (DR. RICHARD NYGARD)
Every once in a while, even sitcoms find a way to speak to real life issues. Good sitcoms handle these issues well, with a healthy balance sensitivity and humor. Parks and Rec was a good sitcom. So when Chris Traegar, the town’s most cheerful resident, realized that he was actually dealing with severe depression, he sought help. He spent the next year in treatment with Dr. Richard Nygard and was open about his methods for dealing with and battling his depression. Later in the series, another character, Craig Middlebrooks, mentions seeing the same psychiatrist to deal with his anger management issues. As someone who has a family history of mental illness and a number of friends who battle anxiety and depression, I appreciated this series highlighting this issue this by showing that it’s okay to admit you need help. And beyond that, they showed that progress can be made when you get it. It’s also worth noting that it was not a throw-away joke in one episode. Chris’s depression was an issue that built up over time and the character continued dealing with it for a very long time after it came to light, which is the reality of mental illness. So, thank you for that, Parks & Recreation.
8. CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
Chris’s and Craig’s psychotherapy were not the only character developments over the course of this series. Every single character saw dramatic change within themselves, in their life situations, and in their relationships with each other. The group of rag-tag co-workers at the beginning of the series are a family by the end. The mopey, goth, college girl is a mom who has found purpose in helping others find their own purpose. The stand-offish diva who just wanted to treat herself has founded a non-profit organization. The man who hated everyone is a loving husband and father. The man-child who lived in a pit is a dad, a businessman, and a celebrity. The up-and-coming entrepreneur has found fame because of his failure. And the office screw-up is the 100-year-old mayor. While their were some time hops in there, we did get to see the parts of their journey that turned them into the people who could do all those things. The seven seasons of the show let us see the years that made those endings possible. We got to experience the beginning of those stories and the relationships that gave these characters what they needed to succeed (or in Tom’s case, to fail epically).
9. TREAT YO SELF
Once each year, Donna and Tom, the team’s resident diva and entrepreneur, took a day for themselves. On this day, they didn’t deny themselves what they wanted. They didn’t say no to impulse buys. It was the annual Treat Yo Self Day. Donna and Tom embraced it fully and once, even brought Ben along because he just looked so pitiful sitting all alone on a bench. While I can get behind the concept of Treat Yo Self, my paycheck, rent, car note, and utility bills usually disagree with the sentiment. So in spirit, I say Treat Yo Self. In real life, though, I gotta treat my bills. So it’s nice to get to watch others live the fantasy.
10. TIME JUMPS
Parks and Recreation is a show that respected its audience. The writers and creators knew good and well that we would want to know what happened to our favorite local government team. So instead of leaving us to wonder and hope for a reunion some time in the mid-2020’s, they gave us time jumps. The final season of the show jumped ahead 3 years to let us see a bit of what was going on in the immediate future of our Pawnee friends. Then the finale took us far into the future and let us see all we needed to know. We know who everyone ends up with and where they end up. We know who has children. We know what dreams they follow and the people they become. And we know that the Pawnee Parks and Recreation team of 2010 remains a family long after they have all gone their separate ways and many of them have left Pawnee. They still stay in touch. They still get together. They still encourage one another, support each other, and lift the others to new heights. They still make each other smile, and laugh, and cry. They still remember the time they spent together building parks in Pawnee. They always will. And so will we.
This character is a nice guy. Unfortunately for him, he’s the underdog of this group. He’s the screw-up, the guy who’s always taken advantage of, and the butt of every joke. On top of everything else, no one even knows his real name. However, Jerry/Larry/Terry/Garry keeps his spirits high, eventually becomes the longest-running mayor in Pawnee history, and dies at 100 with his beautiful wife and enormous family surrounding him.
This miniature horse (not a pony) was a local celebrity in Pawnee. Even though he passed away during the third season, his legacy lived on. He even made a hologram appearance during a concert tribute to him at the end of season 6. Everyone on the series (with the exception of Ben, who learned to fake it) loved Li’l Sebastian. You’d be crazy not to love him, too.
What did you absolutely love about Parks and Recreation? Please take to the comments and let me know your fave things about this fantastic show and/or tell me what I left off the list. Did you watch this series when it was originally on the air or did you come to the party late like me? I’d love to hear from you.